Racist Narratives about Covid-19
Racial and xenophobic rhetoric and Covid-19.
In an interview prior to the Tulsa event on Fox News Channel last Saturday, Trump noted the following:
When asked about the risks of such a gathering, the commander in chief said there was only a minimal chance of becoming sick, adding that the country cannot remain closed forever.
“There is a risk but there’s also something of a tiny, little percentage have a problem with it,” Trump explained. “You build up immunity and we have to get our country back. We can’t keep doing this. We could stay out for five years. I’m sure that would make China very happy… we have to get going. We have to get our country back.”
At the rally itself he ramped up the anti-China rhetoric:
COVID-19, the novel disease caused by the coronavirus, is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, and the term “kung flu,” appears to refer to the Chinese martial art of kung fu.
“It’s a disease, without question, has more names than any disease in history,” Trump said at the rally.
“I can name – Kung flu. I can name 19 different versions of names. Many call it a virus, which it is. Many call it a flu. What difference. I think we have 19 or 20 versions of the name.”
He again used the phrase “kung flu” to the roar of his audience in a rally in Arizona.
President Trump again referred to the novel coronavirus as “kung flu,” eliciting laughter and wild cheers from a young crowd in Arizona on Tuesday.
Trump was listing the different names he has heard for the virus, which has killed at least 119,000 Americans, during a speech for the student Republican group Turning Point Action.
“Wuhan. Wuhan was catching on, coronavirus, kung flu,” he said, repeating it as the crowd roared. “I could give you many, many names. Some people call it the Chinese flu, the China flu, they call it the China.”
The cheers really are stomach-churning.
(And note, to answer his query in the video, COVID-19 stands for “Coronavirus disease 2019” and so the 19 is, like, you know, the year the disease started).
Today Kellyanne Conway defended the term “kung flu” to the press, despite having called it “highly offensive” back in March.
So, on top of xenophobia language, we get a side-helping of Orwellian doublespeak.
And the cherry on that sundae is that it is all designed to deflect responsibility in regards to how poorly the Trump administration has been handling the pandemic.
This all sadly resonates with something I read over the weekend, a two-year-old write-up about a book on fascist politics (How Fascism Works review: a vital read for a nation under Trump):
The assertion that immigrants are responsible for social ills that threaten to ruin a once-great nation, for example, might represent run-of-the-mill racism or xenophobia. His book’s subtitle is after all “The Politics of Us and Them”. But the idea is also drawn from a blueprint shared by the most robust fascistic regimes in recent history.
And while in this case, Trump isn’t talking about immigrants, he is very much deploying xenophobia and the politics of us v. them. It is divisive by design and derisive in its usage.
A more directly immigrant-linked state was made by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who recently directly linked spread of Covid-19 to “overwhelmingly Hispanic” agriculture workers.
And for another racist narrative about Covid-19, we can go to Ohio a little over a week ago: GOP Ohio state senator wonders if ‘colored’ people get COVID-19 from not washing their hands as much.
During a discussion with Angela Dawson, director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, Sen. Steve Huffman, a doctor from Tipp City north of Dayton, said, “I understand that African Americans have a higher incidence of prior conditions and that makes them more susceptible to COVID, but does not make them more susceptible just to get COVID.
“We know it’s twice as often, correct? Could it just be that African Americans – the colored population — do not wash their hands as well as other groups? Or wear a mask? Or do not socially distance themselves? Could that just be maybe the explanation of why there’s a higher incidence?”
The trope of the dirty foreigner/person of color carrying disease (something that Trump has done more than once in the past) is a standard racist canard. It shouldn’t be acceptable in American politics, and it is utterly disheartening that it can still find both willing purveyors and receptive audiences.